Sinn Féin seeking to assert ‘cultural supremacy’ in North, Foster claims

Impasse continues but Brokenshire says deal on new executive could be reached this week

Negotiations to salvage powersharing in Northern Ireland continue as parties mount a last-ditch effort to strike a deal.

 

DUP leader Arlene Foster accused Sinn Féin of wanting to assert “cultural supremacy” in Northern Ireland as the deadlock in talks on forming a new powersharing executive continued.

Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire on Monday gave Stormont’s divided politicians more time to seal a deal on restoring the executive, which collapsed in January following the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness over the DUP’s role in the “cash for ash” controversy.

One of the main stumbling blocks in the talks has been Sinn Féin’s call for an Irish Language Act. Other issues include a Bill of Rights for the region; legalisation of same sex marriage; and measures dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

Ms Foster on Monday said Sinn Féin appeared more concerned with adding to its “shopping list” of demands rather than seeking compromises to restore powersharing.

Ms Foster said her party wanted to see devolution up and running again but was not prepared to sign off on a one-sided deal that would leave the unionist community feeling “short-changed”.

“Sinn Féin have a shopping list, a shopping list that seems to get longer every time we meet with them,” she said.

“That is very disappointing for all of the people of Northern Ireland who make it very clear to us that they want to see devolution back up and running again on a fair and proportionate basis.”

She added: “The onus is really on Sinn Féin now. Whether they want to continue with this political grandstanding or whether they want to get back to the job of work that we need to do...I think it’s long past the time when we should be back in government.”

Ms Foster said her party was willing to support proposals that would find favour among the majority of Gaelic speakers.

She claimed Sinn Féin was pressing for much more, accusing the party of wanting to assert “cultural supremacy” over other sections of the community.

The DUP is prepared to legislate, but only if there are reciprocal protections for Ulster-Scots speakers.

Critical point

In an address in the House of Commons, Mr Brokenshire warned that he would legislate to give civil servants in the North greater authority to spend money in the absence of an executive, but said that critical point had not yet been reached.

He declined to order a new election or impose a version of direct rule from Westminster, as yet another deadline for the five parties to reach agreement fell by the wayside last Thursday.

“This hiatus cannot continue for much longer,” he said in the House of Commons. “There is no doubt that the best outcome is for a new Executive to take those strategic decisions in the interest of all.”

He warned of the impact on public services of the continued stalemate and said he was prepared to step in to safeguard political stability.

“If no agreement is reached, legislation in Westminster may then be required to give authority for the expenditure of Northern Ireland departments through an appropriations bill.”

Earlier, Sinn Féin negotiator Conor Murphy again accused the DUP of refusing to budge on a series of outstanding disputes.

“We don’t see any urgency in terms of the DUP approach to this and we don’t expect and don’t think it is likely that there will be a deal in the short term because there is that lack of urgency,” he said.

‘Bizarre situation’

Reflecting on the upcoming Twelfth of July, the mainstay of the loyal order marching season, he added: “We are in the bizarre situation, I’m sure it’s unique to here, that over the summer time we have to break because the atmosphere becomes too hostile for political negotiations.”

Mr Brokenshire said progress had been made on language, culture and identity issues but gaps remained between the parties.

“The government remains committed to working with the parties and the Irish Government to find a way to close those gaps quickly.

“I continue to believe that a deal remains achievable and if agreement is reached I will bring forward legislation to enable an Executive to be formed, possibly as early as this week.”

Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, said Mr Brokenshire’s comments were most unhelpful.

“He is once again pandering to the DUP’s delaying and blocking of the rights-based issues which are the heart of the current difficulties.”

PA